Making an Impact

I want to make a difference, says just about everybody at least once.

This is especially the case lately in these Un-United States.

Though ALL OF OF US, every last one, do still live in a country that now rips children from the arms of their parents crossing the border and cages them in holding facilities where they see an hour of sunlight a day.

This, by the way, while our attorney general smiles creepily about it as he gleefully quotes a Bible passage used previously by the Third Reich (Note: aka The Nazis) to defend it.

Yes, we have to own our current failures and keep repeating these facts whenever we can even if SINGELHANDLEDLY we can’t change them.

If only because historically it takes A LOT for Americans to make political change but as a people we DO CHANGE – though usually only when our backs are against the wall and there is no other alternative.

Or, as one oft quoted line goes:

Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing – after they have exhausted all other possibilities.

Over the years this has been attributed to everyone from Winston Churchill to Israeli politician Abba Eban, to an unnamed “Irishman” to, well, any amalgamation of sources.  Which makes it no less true.

There is, of course, an argument to be made that everybody thinks they are making a difference because they themselves are different. Every Instagram photo, each Facebook post, all the Twitter rants undisputedly reach people and can be a catalyst to GREAT CHANGE.

… and that’s why there are 96 colors in the box

Or simply deflation when one realizes it didn’t matter as much to everyone else as it did to us. And that even though one or more people than you thought noticed or followed or commented you will NEVER in ten lifetimes match Katy Perry’s 110 MILLION Twitter followers or even Trump’s 52 million.

If only Katy were twice as powerful.

disney princess today… President tomorrow? #itcouldhappen #noreallyitcould

Still, it is essential to remember that each of us has A LOT more power than we think. In fact, every day we hold in our hands the possibility of affecting pivotal decisions, sometimes even life and death ones, among others that cross our paths.

And if you think this isn’t so you have never been a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a lover, a parent or even enemy to anyone.

This, of course, is impossible. In those areas we are ALL double-hyphenates – at the very least.

It is not an exaggeration to say that you never know the full effect you are having on someone you forge any sort of relationship with. Sure, you know what YOU get from them but you don’t truly know how your thoughts, deeds, actions or lack of them served as a catalyst to another person’s change – which then precipitates others, who in turn go on to inspire many others, and then go on to create ______________.

You flatter me so #imblushing

Well, you get the picture. Though perhaps you don’t.

I myself have to be reminded of this every so often, usually when my psyche is at an all time low after seeing kids, usually non-white and poor, taken away from their parents for no other crime than fleeing to the one country where they were told there was an opportunity for freedom – an equal playing field where anyone, even them, could make something of their lives.

Even if this were never true for all (and most especially them in 2018) is beside the point. The United States was always more an idea than a reality. It is no different than the honest advice you might give to a beloved friend or the warm feelings you can’t help but share with a mysterious potential lover who never dreamed anyone would dare think of them the way that you do.

Paging your inner Eliza Dolittle #Icouldhavedancedallnight

Sometimes all any of us have to do is say what we feel (or believe) to someone else, give them something to think about, and change can begin to happen for them, and us, right before our eyes. Other times the timing is wrong but it doesn’t mean there won’t be a great result when we’re not around. In still other cases, we might reach no one but the mere fact that we attempted to finally connect might immeasurably help ourselves, giving us just a little more courage to speak up in different circumstances where the connection we’re trying to make could be much more significant. Or perhaps in the end it’s just another baby step towards, well, something else.

This week I attended an event in honor of the 125th anniversary of Ithaca College held at Walt Disney Studios. It was a big blowout hosted by I.C. alum Robert Iger, Disney’s chairman and chief executive officer – a guy who is arguably one of the top 10 most powerful people in the entertainment industry.

After me… of course #wink

Aside from the fact that he looks great while somehow being even OLDER than I am (Note: And let’s face it, that’s all that we in L.A. really care about, right?), it was fascinating to see the face of this guy brighten when he talked about the meaningful human connections HIS COLLEGE LIFE gave him and taught him – so much so that forty plus years later he agreed to show up and host the gala festivities on his own studio’s back lot the very day he lost his much publicized attempt to acquire 20th Century Fox, to one of his rivals, Comcast.

I’ve held an endowed CHAIR (ahem) position, taught writing and mentored countless students and graduates at the school’s L.A. campus for more than 15 years and in that evening found myself face to face with more grown up versions of people that I will always remember fondly as the not quite adults Mr. Iger once was than you can count.

Feeling very proud #channelingmyinnerMaggie

Forget that some of them now have kids who are teenagers and know a lot more about so many things relevant to today’s world than I do.

What I will always remember from that evening are the numerous instances someone came up to me and recalled some pivotal time where I managed to somehow say something that made them not give up, imparted some little piece of craft (Note: That, no doubt, someone had taught me) that fixed a problem with their work which felt insurmountable or imparted some tiny piece of life advice or social statement (Note: Likely perched on the soapbox I carry around with me, along with my manifesto of liberal talking points) that gave them the confidence to engage in the battle of the world to get what THEY really wanted.

OK.. maybe channeling my inner Ron Burgundy

I mean, who KNEW? At this point, it’s not as if I can remember 85% of the things I’ve said in the past – or even in the very recent present. Though I will confidently proclaim that in every case, whether I remembered it or not, I had NO IDEA what I was saying was even being listened to, much less important to anyone I was saying it to.

It was merely spontaneous engagement on a topic with a group of people sitting in a room and sort of willing (Note: Yeah, sometimes it is tough) to engage.

That’s not the stuff of great teaching. It’s more the talent we all have – of being a thoughtful, decent, listening and reactive human being. At the end of the day it’s only the give and take and exchange of ideas with others that ultimately makes any real difference at all. Or has the chance to.

Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”

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The Star Treatment

roll out the ole’ carpet

Here’s what Girls creator-star Lena Dunham said when asked if she worried that the lead character she plays on her semi-autobiographical HBO series would be sympathetic enough to grab an audience.

“I don’t always like myself, or all the people on TV,” admitted Dunham. “Also, why can’t 25-year-old women make miserable mistakes like Larry David?”

What was most memorable about Ms. Dunham’s response was not only that it was unrehearsed and honest (you spend enough years in show business and you can tell when celebs are blowing smoke up your keester) but the reaction she got from the her fellow Sublime Primetime panelists of 2012 Emmy nominated writers (almost all male) on stage at the WGA Theatre with her. They LOVED her for it.  So much so that they broke out into spontaneous applause, along with the rest of the audience, in one of the few exchanges of the entire evening of speakers that anyone will probably ever remember.

One of these is not like the others…

That was a far cry from the previous awkwardness of these middle-aged guys when the nervous moderator among them finally had to ask her a question. At almost half their ages and, well, a lot more stylish, it felt like they didn’t know…uh… what the heck to make of her (personally I loved the black and white polka dot dress, pixie haircut and arm tattoo that read “STAUNCH” in honor of Little Edie from “Grey Gardens” fame but hey, I am a gay man).  Plus, they looked afraid, very afraid – as if she were the future and, clearly, they would have no part in it, at least not in a starring role.

Perhaps this is nonsense and I’m reading into it.  But…I don’t think so.    Yet Ms. Dunham was not the only one in the group that made everybody a little uneasy that night.  There was also Matthew Weiner, creator-writer of Mad Men, the series that put AMC on the map and won him six of his nine Emmy Awards, including the Television Academy’s statuettes for best drama series four years running, that is until this past week.

Okay, maybe nervous is not quite the word for what they felt towards Mr. Weiner.  It could have been equal amounts of respect, awe, fear and, well, maybe even a little jealousy.  Yet whatever it was quickly began to dissipate when he made some of his own confessions about the cultural phenomenon he created.  When pressed to analyze the success ofashow that doesn’t seem to have a particular genre and, therefore, no strong marketing demographic, Mr. Weiner didn’t appear to have an answer until the panel and audience’s uncomfortable silences gave him a long moment to think of one.

“I think its commercial uniqueness,” he said of Mad Men,  “is that it doesn’t have a formula.  More than any other show I’ve ever worked on, people’s (the writer’s) life experiences wind up on the show unaltered.”

Shameless excuse for another picture of Jon Hamm

And that proved to be another seemingly unrehearsed answer that actually felt real, especially if one considers Mad Men was indeed turned down by every commercial and cable network several times for just that kind of uncategorical reason before it finally found a home at the then fledgling AMC network five years after Mr. Weiner had written it as a spec pilot (and admittedly right before he was convinced it would forever wind up in his drawer as the lovely writing sample it had functioned as up until then).  Also, like Ms Dunham’s response, Mr. Weiner’s answer was particularly memorable for that evening because the idea of writing a successful TV series NOT in a specific genre or WITHOUT a certain demographic seemed almost counterintuitive to what everyone on the panel and in that room of would-be writers had been hearing about TV for years from studio executives, market research studies and more than a few professors (though, hopefully, not this one).

Still, rather than the spontaneous applause given Ms. Dunham, Mr. Weiner’s answer was met with a long, immeasurable dose of awkward silence where, much like an episode of Mad Men, everyone had to stop and think.  This was probably the second most memorable response of the evening and might have even given Mr. Weiner a bit more of the already ample cultural gravitas he enjoyed prior to the time the evening began.

So — Why spend this long on Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner?

Well–

Simply as an illustration of how easy it is for two clear WINNERS of one evening to become two clear LOSERS of another (And in the same week!).  Yes, I’m talking about the Emmy Awards.  Because when both Mad Men and Girls failed to win a single trophy on 2012 Emmy that night, and that’s exactly how both Lena Dunham and Matt Weiner were categorized by the media and, perhaps, by more than one or two of us. THE big losers of the night.  The people who went home empty-handed.  The race-horses who were bested.  Who were no longer thoroughbreds.  At least by the latest (American?) standards.  Yes, that’s how quickly the tide, or perhaps in this case, worm, or perhaps even more apt – stomach – can turn these days.

Do these look like losers to you?

I had the great mis fortune…uh…honor (?) of being in the audience at this year’s Emmy Awards and witnessing the Dunham-Weiner downfall.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s certainly fun if you’ve never been or if, like me, you spent your entire childhood preparing for the next award show and reserved the prime spot in front of your family’s television months in advance.  Plus, who doesn’t like something nice and shiny (assume you too are winning or will win one, because this is part of the fantasy, let’s face it) that you can use to prove to yourself and anyone else who asks in perpetuity that you’re truly wonderful?

Except after the time I spent with both Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner several evenings before I couldn’t help but feel, well, — sort of sick to my stomach through parts of the Emmy evening and for days after.  This feeling began to painfully increase when I went to the Governor’s Ball and found myself seated beside not one but two tables of the cast and creators of the BBC’s much-lauded Downton Abbey.  Both of those tables also had zero.zero Emmys between them – though the show did chalk up one supporting actress win for the unstoppable Maggie Smith  (who was not in attendance and whose award was, somehow, nowhere to be seen). Still, because it’s DAME Maggie Smith, THE Maggie Smith, a venerable acting institution, that didn’t seem to really count as a true Abbey win.   And it certainly didn’t stop a group of many of us naysayers from saying and even believing that technically, on Emmy night, those stuffy period Brits, for all intents and purposes, really had been shut out (that’s double goose egg again if you were keeping count) and that we Americans had emerged as victorious over the dominant British crown as we had almost two and a half centuries before.

We’ll let Shirley speak for us in Season 3. USA! USA!

But back to Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner.  As if the lack of awards for them weren’t already enough to make them the cultural losers of the night, there was even more indignation yet to endure.  Spotted in a Prada dress on the red carpet, Ms. Dunham was lauded in many tabloids in the next day days for also being the fashion LOSER of the evening (they didn’t see the cute black and white polka dot dress on the panel I saw!) while Mr. Weiner was reported on as being THE morose and drinking loser of the fall 2012 awards season, along with the rest of the cast and crew of Mad Men.  This happened when more than one media outlet reported Weiner and company were spotted licking their woundsat an undisclosed restaurant or hotel location far away from the confines of the festive (AND VERY RED!) Governor’s Ball.

Red with envy?

Note:  Truth to be told, I actually saw Mr. Weiner and his wife hurrying out and walking against the crowd from the Governor’s Ball just as the rest of us poor schnook audience members were being ushered in.  He didn’t look happy but neither did he look suicidal.  He simply seemed like a guy who had enough and wanted to leave before he got trapped among another crowd full of people who would demand a suitable reaction, or perhaps even a pithy response, to one of their inane questions when clearly there was none.

Considering all of the above, I offer this observation both for you and for myself.  It is very worth noting, especially if you’re any kind of creative person – whether active, aspiring, studying or retired – that today’s designer outfit IS tomorrow’s thrift store reject –which will inevitably come back into style the day after that as retro chic — until it’s worn out its welcome and lands in the trash bin once more, only to be recycled again if yet someone else decides its hip and cool and groovy.

On the other hand, there ARE classics that never go out of style.  Ms. Dunham and Mr. Weiner are two of those.  And there are a lot more if you go looking for them (look in the mirror and you might even find one).  They’re not always the latest thing, but that doesn’t take away from their style, workmanship or lasting appeal to the right audience.  Nothing and no one tempts anyone on every day of the week.  Except sex , pizza, a nice glass of wine and maybe Angelina Jolie. Though I’ll bet at least two, or perhaps even three of those, have their naysayers.